February 26, 2016

Taming your technology to deal with distractions

How much of your time in a day is spent using technology? Mebbie Bell, associate director of learning resources, shares some of the best strategies for reducing time wasted with technology and increasing time spent focused on your academics. 

Many of us feel beholden — even shackled — to our smartphones and other useful technologies. Though you may enjoy your friends’ messages or the apps and programs that make life a little easier, you may feel obligated to check your phone every ten minutes for notifications. It is also just as easy to get sucked into the long stream of links from one interesting article to another, stealing your time before you realize you have been clicking for two hours. In other words, your best intentions to study, research, read, or write may be all too often derailed by the ever-present technology around you.

As you need both mental space and time to learn effectively, try one or more of these strategies to make your technologies work for you instead of adding stress and distractions.

Become more aware of your screen time. Download one of the many technology blockers or trackers now available. For a different approach, the Bored but Brilliant technology challenge gives you a week’s worth of apps, strategies, and tracking data with which to decrease your app time and increase your creativity.

Consolidate, sync, or delete. If you have a vast collection of software, apps, and other programs, consider streamlining what you use to increase your productivity. To pare down all those programs, ask yourself these questions:
  • What do I need? The list may be long: reminders, timers, planning software, document creation or sharing, task assignment, even music and games. Assess what you already have — if you have too many versions of the same type of program, pick the best one and consolidate your data in one place. If one program does not serve you well, but you have to use it for work or class, sync it with your preferred system to save time.
  • Is this making or managing work? Maybe you thought the latest app would make all the difference, or that your friend’s favourite productivity program would work for you. But, you spend time learning the system, inputting information, and recreating task assignments instead of actually working. If you’re not sure whether you are better off with it or without it, track your time for a day to check how much time you spend setting up your new program versus time spent on your actual work. 
  • Is this useful? This is often a judgment call, but perhaps the most important question to ask. If an app (or program or platform) does not make your life easier, simply, delete it.
Hit pause — or off. When you reach for your phone, a first step is to ask yourself: do I need to check my phone right now, or can it wait 15 minutes? When this doesn’t work, go another step further:
  • Turn on your ‘do not disturb’ setting.
  • Wrap your phone with elastics to make it harder to use!
  • Put your phone inside one bag that you put inside another (and, perhaps, another), or place it on top of a bookshelf, in a drawer or another room.
  • If you worry that friends or family will expect an immediate response or be disappointed that you’re not available: explain in advance that you need to focus and will check in with them later, make plans to meet online or in person at a specific time, ask them to join you in a technology ‘diet’ to boost study productivity, and remember that setting boundaries is both healthy and important.
  • Decide more deliberately when to engage with your texts and posts. Check your accounts and connect with friends on a study break, or as a reward for a task successfully completed.
  • Or, turn off your phone entirely (not just on ‘silent’).
There is an exception to these strategies: if you are on call for work or a responsible caregiver, keep your phone on. But, use the ‘do not disturb’ setting and allow calls only from those few important people. Otherwise, return your calls or texts on a break.

Finally, remember that your motivation, decisions, and actions are the basis of your academic progress. If your technology use is still getting in the way of completing your tasks despite your best efforts, meet with a counsellor or learning strategist for in-person advice. For more information about managing procrastination and maximizing productivity, check out this blog post.